Bee diversity needed to sustain life on Earth

New research shows that the variety of bee species, not just the number of bees, plays a huge role in maintaining wild plants and healthy ecosystems.  

Scientists at Rutgers University, New Jersey, have undertaken a study that proves habitats only flourish with a mixture of many bee species, rather than a small number of dominant types. 

bee on flowers

Originally published in The Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the work backs up the basic idea that biodiversity is the key to life on Earth, sending out a warning that the current trend of decline in this area – with many species of animals, plants, insects, and birds at risk of extinction or already extinct – could dramatically impact the planet’s ability to support life. 

‘This is one of the strongest demonstrations to date of the importance of bee diversity, and of rare bee species, for maintaining healthy ecosystems,’ said Dylan Simpson, study author and a doctoral candidate in Rutgers’ Graduate Program in Ecology and Evolution. ‘This matters because pollination is critical for plant reproduction. And life on land depends ultimately on plants.

“There is a moral and ethical imperative to try to steward ecosystems to maintain communities as they are, so they don’t go extinct,” Simpson said. “But there’s also the practical argument to be made about reaching a better understanding – a lot of our food comes from animal-pollinated crops.”

Based on analysis of the resulting data, the team concluded that different species of bee are important to different species of plants, so in order to support a large community of flora there must be an equally large number of bee varieties. They also found that a significant proportion of pollinating bee species are considered rare. 

In related news, a banned pesticide considered toxic to bees has been approved for emergency use in the UK and a number of EU countries. 

Image credit: Dmitry Grigoriev



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